Jul. 12, 2013


by Richard Wilbur

As we left the garden-party
By the far gate,
There were many loitering on
Who had come late

And a few arriving still,
Though the lawn lay
Like a fast-draining shoal
Of ochre day.

Curt shadows in the grass
Hatched every blade,
And now on pedestals
Of mounting shade

Stood all our friends—iconic,
Now, in mien,
Half-lost in dignities
Till now unseen.

There were the hostess' hands
Held out to greet
The scholar's limp, his wife's
Quick-pecking feet,

And there was wit's cocked head,
And there the sleek
And gaze-enameled look
Of beauty's cheek.

We saw now, loitering there
Knee-deep in night,
How even the wheeling children
Moved in a rite

Or masque, or long charade
Where we, like these,
Had blundered into grand

Filling our selves as sculpture
Fills the stone.
We had not played so surely,
Had we known.

"Leaving" by Richard Wilbur, from Collected Poems. © Harcourt, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the man who said: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." That's Henry David Thoreau (books by this author), born David Henry Thoreau in Concord, Massachusetts (1817). He grew up exploring the woods and fields of Massachusetts, encouraged by his mother to learn as much as he could from nature. He went to Harvard, but he didn't like it very much — he refused a diploma since it cost five dollars. He worked for a while in his father's pencil factory, and as a public school teacher, and he became close friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1841, the Emersons invited Thoreau to live with them and work as a handyman and gardener, and he helped take care of their children, taking them on nature walks and telling them stories. Thoreau stayed with the Emersons for two years. During that time, he worked on his writing, and through Emerson, became friends with many of the Transcendentalists.

In 1844, Emerson bought land on the shore of Walden Pond. Walden Pond was a pristine, 61-acre pond, surrounded by woods, and Emerson agreed to let his friend live on the land and build a cabin there. People often assume that Thoreau went out into the wilderness to write his famous treatise on nature, but in fact, he was living less than two miles from the village of Concord. He had regular dinners with friends, continued to do odd jobs for the Emersons, and had frequent visitors. The book he was so committed to writing at Walden Pond was called A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, about a trip he had taken with his brother. He finished it and published it himself, but it was a flop — selling fewer than 300 copies.

But during the two years he was at Walden Pond, he also kept a journal, and after he left, he put it together as a manuscript. In 1854, he published Walden, or Life in the Woods, which has become a beloved classic.

It's the birthday of the man who gave us the Kodak camera, George Eastman, born in Waterville, New York. He was working at a bank when he got interested in photography around 1877. He took his first dry-plate photograph the next year with the camera that he invented — a view of the building across the street from his window. He developed this little handheld camera, and he called it the Kodak because it was easy to remember, difficult to misspell, and it meant nothing, so it could only be associated with his product.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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